In one school year, Joseph Miller’s digital media and film students from Gainesville High School have written, filmed and edited three short productions, all of which will be featured in this year’s Georgia Film Festival.
The two-day festival showcases films of all genres made in Georgia and in the Southeast.
“Anytime we get into a film festival, we’re excited,” Miller said. “To have their laurels on the wall, that’s a big ideal to me.”
His students’ films have also been featured at the London Lift-Off Festival and the Middle Georgia Film Festival in Milledgeville.
On Friday, Sep. 20, the students’ films — “Hammerhands,” “Mislaid” and “Tartarus” — will premiere in the Georgia Film Festival at the University of North Georgia.
“Hammerhands” was written, directed and edited by Gainesville High senior, Chandler Thornton. It follows a wannabe slasher villain who fails at his numerous attempts to murder a group of young adults.
Although he has worked on both “Mislaid” and “Tartarus,” Thornton said he considers “Hammerhands” his baby.
On the day of shooting the film, Thornton said he broke one of the big rules of filming by not establishing the location set.
His friend, who played the role of Hammerhands, recommended they shoot the production at his apartment complex. Thornton said he “lucked out” because all of the lighting in the location was orange, giving off a spooky vibe.
During the Middle Georgia Film Festival, Thornton got to experience a large audience watching “Hammerhands” for the first time.
“I liked seeing their reactions,” he said. “It was different because I’ve never done that before.”
100 hours, one film
Miller started working as Gainesville High’s digital media and film instructor a little more than a year ago. Since then, he has pushed students to tackle big projects, including entering the 100 Hour International Film Race in December 2018.
Miller said this was his students’ first big film shoot.
The group of students had to write a script, film a movie and edit it within 100 hours.
They ended up producing, “Mislaid,” which follows the story of a girl who is plagued with traumatic recurring memories.
Every year the film race’s coordinators choose a different theme to assure that people don’t cheat and write a script ahead of time.
Last year’s guidelines included incorporating a lost memory, bobblehead figure and the action of making a bed.
The group of Gainesville High students met during and after school to work on the film.
Ian Mallard, a Gainesville High sophomore, operated the boom microphone and Zoom audio recorder for “Mislaid.”
“The boom mic is my favorite because of all the crazy situations you find yourself in,” Mallard said. “I find myself under a table, hanging over a balcony, on someone’s shoulders.”
Despite the challenge of being in the right position during filming, Mallard said that the biggest obstacle involves working together.
“Almost anyone that gets to this point is already interested in filmmaking, so they’re probably been making stuff on their own,” Thornton said. “They never really had to work with others.”
Mallard said his best advice in this scenario is to “know your job.”
Miller makes a point to teach his film students about the importance of delegating roles and staying in their own lanes.
“Sometimes it’s hard for a 12th grader to take directions from a 10th grader just because the person is a director, but it’s our job,” Miller said. “The sooner they learn that, the better off they’re going to be in the film industry.”
Stuffing big ideas into small wallets
Feeling inspired after producing “Mislaid,” Miller said his students decided to jump on another film before the end of the 2018-19 school year.
Miller asked for students to throw out story ideas, and he picked his favorite one — “Tartarus.”
The plot involves a group of apparent misfits who band together to stop a group of evil vigilantes from unleashing hell on earth.
After working on “Mislaid,” this was the young filmmakers’ second time filming with professional actors.
“You definitely get a different perspective with experienced actors,” Mallard said. “It’s not as easy as some people think it is. When you start to film and you see how much they put into it, it’s something else.”
The actors the Gainesville High students have worked with receive food instead of money for their efforts.
Miller, who is an actor, said they use the jobs for clips to put in their demo reel, which bolsters their resumes.
With “Tartarus,” his group licensed the music from a composer out of New Jersey.
The composer reached out to Miller on Facebook about providing the score for their short film.
Miller said he told him that he couldn’t afford the service, especially since 2-3 minutes of music typically costs around $1,000.
However, the composer gave him a deal, allowing the students to pick out five pre-written songs for $100.
Thornton said he was grateful to have the music before diving into “Tartarus.”
“When I’m writing a film, I like for them to have some type of rhythm,” he said. “I base the scripts around music. I got to the editing process and it was nice being able to have pieces of music I can just listen to and go through the script with.”
Not every transaction works out when making a film.
Mallard said a lot of the film students will come up with great ideas, but they have neither the space, equipment, money or time to pull it off.
Before the film class got a track to move the camera while filming, he said they would choose the quietest stepper who could hold the equipment steady.
“We’re lacking in that department, but we do OK with what we have,” Miller said. “It would be great to have a $30,000 camera instead of an $800 camera, but we’ve got to work with what we’ve got.”
Weather can also be the enemy of a film.
Miller said with “Mislaid,” one of his students had to rewrite a part of the script because it was storming and raining outside.
The scene had originally involved raking leaves outside. Instead, the actors cleaned an unfinished bathroom.
“I was really proud of them for adjusting on the fly,” Miller said.
A new director in town
Since Miller took on his film role at Gainesville High, Mallard said the class has been more hands-on. The students also have more equipment to work with including drones and extra cameras.
“It’s very much progressed and we’ve filmed a lot,” Mallard said.
Thornton said he enjoys that the class doesn’t focus on reading textbooks about film theory, but more on the “doing” process of filmmaking.
“That’s what’s been the most exciting thing for me doing this class, is actually getting experience and going onto real film sets,” he said.
In the independent film industry, networking is key.
In a year of receiving lessons from Miller, many students have accumulated enough work to start building a demo reel.
Miller encourages all of the students who have finished a film production to start accounts on the International Movie Database. This IMDB account is used by many casting directors for hiring set staff.
“It helps them establish credibility within the film industry, whether they go into it or not,” Miller said. “I just want to make sure it’s available to them if they pursue this after high school.”